I put quite a lot of time in on http://transracialeyes.com/2012/05/23/what-does-culture-say-about-adoption/ my latest comment at Transracialeyes. It’s kind of a summation of what I’ve learned about Korean culture in regards to adoption while living here.
I also posted on Facebook today:
Please DON’T CALL ME an adoptee. I WAS adopted. I am not adopted now. Don’t define me by my former adoption.
I am now free to be whoever I want to be. Like a person liberated from slavery, they cease to be slaves once they fully embrace their liberty. I WAS in bondage. Now I am free.
Kevin Ost-Volmers of Land of Gazillion Adoptees wanted to interview me about “What’s next?” Well, that quote above is kind of a summation of that. I’m going to go back home to America and do all the same things I did before, only I have my own internal compass now that is no longer warped by the iron attraction of unaddressed adoption issues. I think it’s going to be great.
I was asked to give a speech at GOAL’s Post Adoption Survey final forum on the topic of adoptee identity from an older adoptee’s perspective. I thought I’d share it here.
I don’t remember where I got all the images. If you’re an image owner and protest its use, I will gladly take the image down.
Here it is, paraphrased (with the odd thing I forgot to add during the speech):
For the first waves of adoptees, we were scattered across America, predominantly to small towns.
These were insular communities, unaccustomed to and fearful of foreigners and devoid of people of color.
Our peers looked much like the students in this class photo. Note not one ethnic face. This was typical outside of cities. It was all WE saw, and they saw us as something totally different.
Back then, there was little or no vetting of adoptive parents. The only requirement was that they had an income, they professed to be Christians, and could get personal references. As a result, many of us were sent to religious extremists. Some were even sent to cults. Jim Jones adopted from Korea. Adoptees sent to cults have told me of parishioners being encouraged to adopt as many Korean orphans as they could. They were exposed to cruel physical and emotional abuse. Other adoptees have told me of being used as farm labor and experiencing physical abuse. Our isolation allowed these things to happen without intervention.
Because we were a minority, oftentimes the ONLY minority, we experienced a lot of cruelty. All adoptees have experienced some racism, but back then it was extreme. The year I graduated from high school, in a town near mine, Vincent Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat by unemployed autoworkers, simply because he was Asian and all Asians reminded them of the Japanese stealing their jobs. His assailants got 2 years probation and a $3,780 fine. The climate of racism was a very real threat.
And so we carried on as best we could, in our all white communities, with our all white friends, like this church youth group of the 70’s.
Naturally, since this monoculture and monorace was all we were exposed to, IF we happened to meet an Asian, we were afraid of the way they looked and how to deal with them.
IF we saw other Asian youth, we noted how our community regarded them, and we didn’t want to be regarded the same way, so we avoided them.
Even though we made white friends, we were aware that we never really fit in.
Later, IF we saw Asian American youth and their tight communities, they seemed impenetrable to us.
We never felt like we could belong to any of them. A lonely, scarey place to be.
Growing up, there wasn’t any literature for children about adoption. Only about orphans.
Not like today, where there are all kinds of books about being adopted. (although I prefer P.D. Eastman’s book Are You My Mother, because at least in that book the orphan isn’t really an orphan and finds his real mother – while many of these books over emphasize the child’s specialness and the agenda to be grateful strongly permeates between the lines)
We didn’t have adoptee groups or culture camps either. We had to deal with our uniqueness on our own, and we couldn’t (and oftentimes were discouraged from) talking about being adopted or of a different race with our families. We had to censor what we said so as not to appear ungrateful. The result of all of the above meant we had to suppress our feelings about what happened to us and how we dealt with being different/ being adopted. Isolating our inner selves became our way of being.
Our isolation was complete due to the times and location. We barely use cell phone or computers. (we had no computers growing up and were late to accept technology. Very few of us use social networking. Many are just now discovering the internet.
Searching for us is especially problematic.
Because talk of adoption was off the table, many of us had to wait or continue to wait until our parents pass away. In my case, I had suppressed the fact that I was an adoptee so thoroughly that I didn’t even look at the files that were sent to me when my parents passed away. They sat unopened for years and I didn’t discover them until after I had later decided to search, having completely forgotten they existed.
IF we finally recognize that our adoption is an issue that needs to be resolved, then finding out about our past enters our thoughts. For me, it took a personal crisis. By that time, we don’t know anywhere to look except the adoption agency we came from.
That is, if we know. If we don’t know, there are so many to sift through. Quite often, these adoption agencies fold and their files are sent to other agencies, or their names change…
Then, you can only get your files from your adoption agency IF your state has open records laws.
And/or, if you were not adopted directly from one of the major international adoption agencies, then you have to find out which one of them your local agency brokered with.
Then you find out that your international adoption agency isn’t the last word source for all your records, that there is another entity in Korea.
OR, if you were adopted privately, you have to hunt down the lawyer who drafted your adoption, if you can find him and he’s still alive.
Only then you might realize that your International agency is actually a “partner” of one of the four licensed Korean adoption agencies allowed to send children abroad. If, like me, the International adoption agency in your country fails to advocate for you, then you have to try and get your files yourself from one of the four Korean adoption agencies who are licensed to send children for adoption abroad.
Remember, this is the older isolated adoptee who has grown up fearing Korea.
Many older adoptees are easily dissuaded at the first setback. Because our cases are more likely to have irregularities, we are often more likely to experience arbitrary treatment or withholding of documents by the adoption agencies to save face and reduce public exposure to just how many mistakes and/or ethical violations occurred back then. And so, we are an especially vulnerable population.
If attempts to get your information is unsuccessful from the country you were sent to, then a trip to Korea is in order to try and see if you can get more personally. Then, of course, if you are older the odds are smaller that any information which can lead to search and reunion will appear and if it does then you’ve not much time to search. Time is the older adoptee’s greatest enemy.
Then you must take what little facts there are and investigate if there is some hope of local records or a person who can provide more information or leads.
Unfortunately,if you are older, most of the orphanages do not exit. And many hospitals also no longer exist.
Then there is always the option of going on t.v.
Obviously, this is a confusing and arduous process. The Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare provides funding to adoption agencies and organizations to help us sort out the maze, but it’s often not in the adoption agency’s interest to help us. Instead of this maze, we need to have one central place where anywhere we inquire will point to. I was not born to the country of Holt, and my identity documents should not be in the hands of a private corporation. They should be in the hands of the country I was then a citizen of, who can protect those who want to remain anonymous just as well and who there is no doubt there is no conflict of interest. We are tired of being the victims of adoption agencies saving face for past mishandling of cases. We have no confidence in them.
Now, when we come to Korea on this life-changing identity exploration, we don’t want to be treated like tourists. We don’t want the Korean government’s money spent on programs which give us such a superficial view of culture.
Instead of pity, we would prefer sympathy. We want to be welcomed and included.
I also left copies of this wonderful dialogue that transpired between myself and the daughter of an aging adoptee, perplexed as to why her mother was so inaccessible when the topic of adoption came up. I hope it sheds some light on what peculiar creatures we can be at times.
Here are some of my suggestions for improvement to Post Adoption Services…
KCARE is the government-funded institution set up to eventually become the “Central Authority” – supposedly an independent body – to satisfy the Hague Convention’s requirements in regards to protecting adoptee identity. It replaces GAIPS, the previous failed attempt to centralize services for adoptees. Essentially, it is the same as GAIPS and uses the same inadequate database and methods. The only thing central about it is that it supposedly contains information on all adoptees in one location. However, the contents of its database tell the adoptee nothing they don’t already know: the adoptee’s name, the adopting parent’s name, birth date, adoption date, the country the adoptee was sent to, and which adoption agency facilitated the adoption. Case workers who handle Birth Family Search requests for adoptees can do nothing more than ask adoption agencies for an adoptee’s records. On occasion, individual workers have advocated for adoptees by being persistent when information was withheld, but those individuals no longer work there.
Problems that need to be addressed and how it needs to be improved:
Adoption advocacy is impossible – with no power to directly access files, case workers must maintain friendly relationships with adoption agencies because any sharing of file information is a gift of cooperation from the adoption agencies. Therefore, adoption agencies can continue to arbitrarily withhold information when it suits them. All power over adoptee identity is held by private corporations, and the good relations required to maintain cooperation weakens advocacy attempts in contentious cases.
Outreach is terrible – none of the agencies or organizations refer to KCARE, so there’s nothing central about their “authority.”
Their website user interface is terrible and no instructions are given for adoptees to follow on basic information, such as how to conduct a Birth Family Search or how to get your case posted in their on-line registry. Like many websites in Korea, they utilize images and programs which render the Korean language portions of their websites untranslatable by machine translators such as Google Translate.
Up until just recently, Korean families registering their searches for their lost children were LEFT IN KOREAN, so adoptees couldn’t access the information, destroying any effectiveness or even the point of having a registry. As of this update, only 2 pages of 6 have been translated into English. Many adoptees who have registered have yet to have their cases even posted. Translation services and website entry are obviously understaffed.
Services are not central – Take Birth Family Search away from adoption agencies. The search landscape is splintered, confusing, and arbitrary.
Birth Family Search (BFS) is that portion of Post Adoption Services (PAS) that the government subsidizes. Because International adoption negated the need for the Korean government to include adoption as part of social welfare programs, the government can only allot grants to parties (adoption agencies and organizations) who propose to care for our welfare.
BFS funds can be better spent – agencies manage their funds poorly and provide weak services. In the past they have misappropriated funding earmarked for BFS as well. Holt spent BFS money on pro-adoption campaigns recently. Despite receiving large sums of money, when adoptee searches extend for upwards of nine months, they complain that the blame is in lack of funding.
I say it’s THEIR RESPONSIBILITY, and it (and other post adoption services, such as culture programs and counseling) is part and parcel of pronouncing a child adoptable. If they can’t provide for their responsibilities towards a child subject to adoption, then they should get out of the business. I feel taxpayer money to private interests – especially with such a history of mismanagement and misappropriation – is tantamount to corporate welfare.
Now, adoption agencies claim they must control adoptee files in order to insure protection of those parents who they signed relinquishment contracts with. Holt used these arguments with me to rationalize not giving me my full records, even though I was abandoned so there never was a relinquishment contract. They also used this argument to rationalize why they don’t send an adoptee’s full file to their partner International adoption agencies. I and many other adoptees subject to being denied access arbitrarily feel that the government is the only institution we can trust to arbitrate our cases fairly for the best interests of all parties, as they have no conflict of interests.
Culture Programs are part of Post Adoption Services and were instituted to give adoptees a sense of Korean identity. It has been argued in the past that this was done as part of the counting of all diasporic Koreans to strengthen the relevancy of Korea politically. Whatever the reason, it has resulted in subsidizing of culture camps and homeland tours as mandated by the Korean government of the International adoption agencies.
Programs for adoptees who choose to live here are nearly non-existent – They are not much better than for average tourists. Fulbright scholars get much richer, more in-depth cultural experiences than adoptees do, as well as home-stays and job opportunities. Korea could create a program like Vista where we could actually directly help improve Korean society while learning about it and getting enough to survive on.
Language programs are a serious need for adoptees, as we are not given the same amount of grace that non-native foreigners receive, and some of us may end up living here permanently and/or becoming full citizens. However, instead of increasing funding for these programs, they are being cut.
Programs are too overwhelming – In addition, language programs scholarship are arduous full commitments that don’t allow adoptees enough time or attention to support themselves. I, personally, have no desire to learn language to the level of being able to write a scholastic paper in Korean. For me, I needed (still do) classes on basic survival Korean, do-able with m and it would have been great to have had that when I first got here, so I could have gotten off to a running start.
Programs discriminate against age – The NIEED scholarship has a cut off age of 40, so older adoptees (who have many valuable years left, I might add) are left out.
Finding Employment in Korea is, as my readers know, challenging. One of the few jobs available to foreigners is language education, and adoptees are consistently passed over by Caucasian foreigners or Korean foreigners who are bi-lingual. Our non-native English speaking European/Scandinavian brothers and sisters are especially effected.
Our talents are unrecognized and we are undervalued. A lot of adoptees come value-added and we waste our skills here in Korea. A civil servant at the Employment Office should be assigned to adoptees and hopefully match us with businesses that could benefit from our skills. Copy-editing is always in need of improvement here and we could be very valuable as consultants for businesses as Western consumers.
In general, I told everyone that I am socially minded and liberal yet fiscally conservative. I don’t think the government should create a billion new programs for us, but that they should make the programs they started for adoptees work and incorporate us into existing programs already serving Korean citizens. They should protect our interests and safeguard our identity documents; get out of adoption agency welfare and serve us directly.
written in Dec. of 2010
You don’t know me but your public information says you might be related to the only person in Washington State who has the same birthday as my possible sister. Is S.B. Korean, by any chance? If yes, please give S.B. the attached documents with background information as to why I believe we could be siblings, and inform her that I live in another country, mean only to confirm my own history, and have no intention to disrupt her life other than to derive the truth of my own history, and any and all actual contact would be entirely up to her discretion. I ask her to help me confirm or disprove this possibility, merely because the not knowing disturbs me daily and I want to find peace, finally close this upsetting chapter, and move on.
Dear Korean radio station/t.v. station,
Many Koreans in Korea searching for family don’t have any way to look for Korean children who they’ve lost in America. Also, many Korean moms have emigrated out of Korea and their American children returning to Korea don’t think to look abroad for them. If you could make little public service announcements of these family searches, it might reunite families and heal a lot of broken hearts.
Dear Oregon legislature,
Oregon law is written to protect the privacy of relinquishing mothers through a passive registry system. In the case of possible siblings separated by adoption, there is no way to confirm biological connections except through the adoption agencies which separated the children to begin with. In the case of possible siblings, there is no third party confirmation that efforts at contact were really made or that the circumstantial reasons for possible sibling relationships were presented to the adoptee in question. I see this as a conflict of interest when the same party who possibly engaged in unethical practices separating the siblings are the only party allowed to make contact. Because there was no contract to restrict contact between the two children, nor any reason that contact would ruin the social status and reputation of the other child, the argument that adoption agencies give of protecting one child from another seems ungrounded.
I can condemn the extent to which your organization overstepped the ethics and human rights of thousands of children, because you were misguided by missionary zeal and your good intent run a muck. I recognize that was in the past and I can’t do anything to change the damage done. However, the fact that you CONTINUE to impact my life with your inhumane and self-serving policy allows me to blame you for oppressing me today.
Because you were not forthright, honest, or compassionate in your post adoption services, I believe you are in breach of not only the intent of Korean Post Adoption Services law, but also all human decency. Shame on you and your entire organization for your protectionist practices.
There is only one place for Christians who harm in the name of God. And it starts with the same letter as Holt.
Powerful images and rational arguments by an adoptee/scholar/poet on re-humanizing the women who gave birth to us.
Jennifer Kwon Dobbs was recently reunited with her birth mother from whom she was forcibly separated from, the fact of which was not reflected in her case file. Today she is happily learning her way around the Korean kitchen under the guidance of her doting Korean mom.
Jennifer pioneered unwed mother’s advocacy in Korea and works intimately with Korean Unwed Mother’s & Families Association. She is a fellow at the Korea Policy Institute.
Copied from one of my other blogs…
Recently I reflected that X and myself really aren’t so far apart on our views. I have come to believe that “justice” is both hard to define and probably a fool’s pursuit. We can’t change what has already been done and must learn to live comfortably with it. We can work to improve the future for those that follow us, but it can’t undo our abandonment or heal us. We must come to terms with our history, our lack of history, and all the trauma that formed us. But I wouldn’t be so cruel as to say as he does, “Quit yer whining.” Cryng is part of the healing process, and maybe that’s why he can’t heal.
Well, a few days ago X showed up on facebook adoptee groups putting his opinion out there again, not really discussing, again., and giving the same old story – that not only were mixed-race adoptees saved, but that racism is still a problem and stigmatizing is still a problem and that Koreans don’t want to adopt these problem children so international adoption is still necessary.
I didn’t have time to respond at the moment and now can’t find his comment because THERE ARE TOO MANY FREAKING ADOPTEE GROUPS ON FACEBOOK to keep up with. So, I will respond here.
We should ask ourselves first, “Is there, in fact, such a problem,? then if yes, “Is the problem nearly so large as to warrant evacuation measures?” and, more important still, “Why is this still a problem?”
In today’s Korean society, couples put off having family for career ambitions, couples divorce prior to conceiving, some travel abroad and marry foreigners, some marry visiting foreigners, and some who don’t have the status or skills to woo an eligible Korean woman import brides from other countries. Korean ethnicity is no longer homogeneous. The orphanages are not filled with half-breed children, they are filled with children who have dysfunctional parents or orphans whose extended family can’t care for them or children in respite care whose guardians are having a temporary rough time. Then there are the Holt orphanages filled with special needs children. The children sent abroad for adoption are infants, sent away to hide a family’s shame and jettison the weight which will prevent a woman from succeeding because she has no other options without family support. We also see personalities in the media rising in popularity who are mixed race. They are not feared nor reviled, they are thought of as beautiful and exotic. We know those raised in Korea did not have an easy time growing up here, but because of them society is becoming more tolerant. What if they, too, were sent away? There would not be this progress being made, that’s what.
X believes that Korea is an ignorant society that can’t change, and so intervention by the West is necessary to “save” its lesser citizens. This is in stark contrast to what I’ve experienced living here. I’ve never witnessed a place and people that changes so rapidly in my entire life. Change IS possible, and it IS happening at lightening fast speed. It just seems slow to impatient adoptees because we want to see change in our lifetime, or even more unreasonably, in the small time we are involved with Korea. The reason X can’t see this is because he’s old. He makes his living from the older, wealthier, most self-serving, conservative Koreans who have a lot at stake if society becomes more liberal. He is out of touch with youth culture. He also is holding onto the canonization of his savior Harry Holt because the entire identity he’s created for himself pivots around being saved. Now, as a war baby he has the right to love and admire Holt – but what happened to him didn’t happen to most of us – and I’m not going to argue that as a war baby he wasn’t saved – he was – but that isn’t the case anymore.
International adoption does not save anyone from Korea. What it does do is provide the means for racial cleansing. What it does do is allow for the disposal of less than perfect progeny. What it does do is allow families to not answer for shame that maybe they deserve to bear responsibility for. What it does do is provide a really painful means to regulate women who do not follow the prescribed moralities set up by the patriarchy which subjugate them . What it does do is give the government a free pass to ignore their social responsibilities. International adoption maintains and nurtures the very ills it means to save children from. It is the catalyst for relinquishment. It is the grease that oils the perpetual machine, this vacuum. And what we are seeing in Korea is what will happen in the rest of the source countries of the world unless we put some brakes on the madness and find ways to show people that every color is beautiful, all children are perfect in God’s eyes, and that our wayward daughters are still our daughters and our grandchildren are still our grandchildren.
Comments also copied from my other blog…
December 9, 2011 at 1:39 am (Edit)
This is such a good post because it tackles head on what the specific problems are. In one corner of the world. These may not be the problems operating in int’l adoption in China or India or Ethiopia or Russia (each has its own IA challenges associated with its own culture and history) but this is enough for someone wondering what to do and thinking about adoption in this ONE place. Certainly, it ought to give any PAP serious pause.
I don’t think people can grasp the world of international adoption by putting all of it down as corrupt. Because while it may be mostly corrupt, people will be mostly moved by understanding the factors operating in the place where they expect their child to come from. (Yes, that sounds like consumerism–I’m just presenting the mindset.) This has just come home to me recently, that it’s all really personal. Grab a person who is on one pipeline and describe for them how that pipeline *got to be* and the incredible injustices that created it and you have their attention. Paint the whole process as awful and they just tune out, though I imagine 80% of programs deserve their embarrassing time under the microscope.
Thanks again for your measured and wise words. I always love reading what you have to say.
December 9, 2011 at 3:00 am (Edit)
Thank you, Jess.
While I agree that the problem of the lives of mixed-race children being in jeopardy may (have been) be only a Korean scenario, the problem of international adoption creating a false solution and /or a temporary solution becoming institutionalized until it is the defacto solution is a valid worry regarding programs in most of the other source countries of the world.
The forces of the entitled will always create a vacuum towards the consumer, at the expense of the source country’s development into a self-sustaining and civilized society. The strength of this vacuum depresses real efforts at local solutions. The very presence of the adoption option helps create orphans…
For the consumers, most of the time adoption works, but at what cost? So many costs are never factored in, and easily dismissed.
But I totally agree with you that crying that international adoption is corrupt only stops the conversation. I also think that most programs are done with the best of intentions. The problem, which always seems to arise, is when the ends starts to justify the means and a few pesky ethics are ignored. It’s a slippery slope for good intentions, and ripe for exploitation.
I just wish people could look past their own stories and needs long enough to really consider the ramifications of and how complicated and messy international adoption is. I wish adoptees and adoptive parents and the whole world would think about how adoption is born of tragedy, and that the goal should be that adoption is no longer necessary, not to increasing it or bemoaning its reduction.
International adoption should never be more than truly temporary aid and should never be a replacement for a country’s social services, nor should it contribute to a country violating the human rights of its own citizens. Whenever implemented, it should be done so with an eye to become obsolete as the real needs and source causes are addressed.
The international adoption agencies in Korea need to stop inventing work and get the hell out so we can make a better society.
While I was born after the Korean war, it is still sobering to know I was a product of its aftermath. More sobering still, are reminders of just how bad it was for the people of The Forgotten War.
The Christian missionary focus of the video is unmistakable, and I couldn’t figure out if this was a memorial to the Reverend Everett Swanson mentioned or if it was someone in Korea seriously living in the past, or WHAT it could be about.
Part of me continued with trepidation, thinking it might be yet-another-attempt at canonizing and perpetuating International Adoption.
But to my pleasant surprise, these are the posts of Compassion South Korea, a branch of Compassion International (and where the organization first began), and their focus is now, and has always been, sponsorship. Interestingly, the sponsorship today is not for Koreans, but from Koreans for children of other countries. And, I was correct that the footage and images are there as memorial to the founder and as a reminder of how tragedy was once in Korea’s backyard and how Koreans can return the favor. And you know what? I bet all the 22,000 children he helped are currently productive members of Korean society, with roots here despite their losses.
Seeing these images I am so deeply moved by what happened to the country of my birth, the land where I’m currently residing. And I truly do see how humanitarians could have been blinded by their desires to help fast and think later. But clearly, as the late Rev. Swindon demonstrated – we can help children without forcing them to lose their country, culture, language, and each other.
God, I’m always relieved whenever I see Christians NOT wreaking havoc and doing something beneficial. I wish Harry Holt had taken his cues from Rev. Swindon…
For a brief time, after I realized I was adopted and that adoption may have no small part in why the world makes no sense to me, I went into a mad frenzy seeking to find out as much information on adoption as I could.
Three years later, and I can’t find shelter from adoption all around me. Case in point, two offenses in the span of a week, and I WAS NOT LOOKING.
The theme of the day is birthday – for my work with TRACK and because my so-called birthday is coming up.
and what’s THE VERY FIRST F*****G HIT I GET?
Do Americans have ANY IDEA just HOW MUCH they are entitled to children from other countries? Do non-adoptees have ANY IDEA just HOW MUCH this shit is in our faces? All the time? Everywhere we turn?
Note to myself: never shop for birthday decorations on-line. Not that I would do this for myself, but it seems I can’t even do it for others!
So today I went and google’d “younger sister Korean” just because I forgot how to spell it. I skipped the first Yahoo answers citation because in the second citation “bowel movement…dong” caught my eye. (aw come on, it would catch your eye too) Why would those be in the same post?
One look and I knew exactly. It seems that in forty + years since my similarly piss-poor how-to-care-for-your-Korean-orphan manual, adoption agency handbooks for parenting Korean children hasn’t changed much (okay, about twenty more words) – it’s just been transferred to pixels instead of ink is all.
drill down to its home page, and it gets even worse. Figuring prominently, just below the banner in huge type:
You may be eligible for
a $13,170 federal tax credit
No Waiting Period After Approval
No Foreign Travel Required
Your baby will arrive at LaGuardia or JFK Airport in New York City.
We place healthy infants who receive personal care from foster mothers before placement
And! You can learn all you need to know about how to care for and help your Korean child adjust in one 3-hour seminar…
Oh, and please send us a donation…
It’s a good thing we can’t be crated and shipped in boxes…(which, btw, is essentially what Harry Holt did to infants on the first orphan flight – white cardboard boxes with air-holes, so the babies could be stacked)
I don’t know about you, but I’d have SERIOUS RESERVATIONS about ANY of the over 4,000 parents who answered an advertisement like theirs. Answered and received. And no doubt donated. Just gross.
The subsidized purchase of human beings is another matter altogether…
I’m just minding my own business trying to have a life. But get whacked like this on a regular basis. Me and every adoptee I know. And so will all those babies being adopted now.
Adoption. It’s the gift that just never stops giving.